A conservative veterans' group backed by the Koch family is launching a multimillion-dollar ad blitz in three presidential battleground states Thursday, seeking to tap into rising public support for withdrawing all American troops from Afghanistan.
The appeal organized by Concerned Veterans for America — "Tell Washington it's time to bring our troops home!" — marks a new and more aggressive effort to roust voters in both parties to demand an end to the United States' longest war, which has killed nearly 2,400 U.S. troops since 2001, including two more who died in a blast last weekend.
The ad campaign is set to air in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — swing states that are being targeted based on research indicating that President Donald Trump's unfulfilled pledge to end America's "endless wars" resonated strongly in 2016.
The ad features five veterans urging voters to demand an end to what one calls a "mismanaged war in Afghanistan that our leaders haven't told the truth about" and has cost taxpayers an estimated $1 trillion dollars.
"We've been engaged for 18 years in Afghanistan," said CVA Executive Director Nate Anderson, a former Army Green Beret. "That is an injustice both to the shrinking population of men and women who wear the uniform, willing to put their lives on the line, as well as the American taxpayers who pay the bill for that."
"The public opinion on this issue shows very clearly that the majority of American people, including veterans, would be supportive of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan," he added.
The United States has about 12,000 troops in Afghanistan.
The $1.5 million ad campaign, which will also air in Washington and online, is being bankrolled by Stand Together, a network of nonprofits funded by the Charles Koch family, a leading backer of conservative causes. It's also part of CVA's broader "Rethink Foreign Policy" campaign.
It is the latest example of the evolving trans-partisan nature of the anti-war movement, which has drawn some politically strange bedfellows on the far-right and far-left who are advocating for extricating U.S. military forces from open-ended conflicts.
The coalescing of views was symbolized by the launch last month of a new Washington think tank, the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, which is dedicated to building new support for a less interventionist foreign policy. The Quincy Institute is supported by the Koch Foundation, as well as the Open Society Foundations, which is funded by George Soros, a leading financier of liberal causes.
Concerned Veterans for America believes that the three swing states where the new ad campaign is focused are particularly ripe for the message, due in part to its population of recent veterans.
A study published in 2017, for example, concluded that Trump "drew support from American communities that have seen firsthand the human costs of war — and could pay those costs again with coming escalation in Afghanistan. Trump’s Afghan gambit, in other words, risks retribution at the ballot box in 2020."
Recent polling also suggests that military veterans and their families are largely opposed to more military interventions around the world. And a recent veterans survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that a majority believes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not worth fighting — a sentiment that polls show dovetails with the public at large.
"It was clear," Anderson said, "that voters responded to this message that candidate Trump was preaching, which was we can't continue this endless-war policy as a nation."
Supporters of the campaign are also calling for a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan whether or not the Trump administration can reach a peace settlement with the Taliban, which provided sanctuary to the Al Qaeda terrorist network responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
The special U.S. representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has sought unsuccessfully to reach an accommodation among the warring parties that would allow the United States to begin withdrawing troops.
"We should withdraw completely, peace deal or no peace deal," said Dan Caldwell, a senior adviser to CVA and a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq. "We are supportive of ambassador Khalilzad's efforts, and we hope that it leads to an agreement that will lead to all American forces coming home."
"But," he added, "we don't need a peace treaty to start withdrawing, and there are concerns that the peace process could be used to keep troops in Afghanistan indefinitely."
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the organization that supports the Quincy Institute. It is supported by the Charles Koch Foundation.